Lawsuit Targets Pesticide Impacts

Two nonprofit conservation groups have filed an extensive lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to consider the impacts of hundreds of registered pesticides on species at risk of going extinct.

The lawsuit filed Thursday by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Pesticide Action Network names 318 chemicals registered by the EPA for use, but which the groups believe may be harming species as tiny as butter­flies and as big as killer whales.

The Endangered Species Act requires that the EPA consult with other federal biologists whenever it takes an action that could harm species whose numbers are dwindling and which have been listed as either threatened or endangered under the act.

But the EPA allowed the 318 pesticides to be registered for use without first consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or with the National Marine Fisheries Service to consider the impacts and to come up with mitigation strategies should the products prove harmful.

The lawsuit identifies 214 species at risk of going extinct, including several familiar here: the tiny Oregon chub, a minnow once common in Willamette basin backwaters; the northern spotted owl, the iconic bird that radically altered management of Pacific Northwest public forests when environmentalists showed that the bird needed big old trees to survive; and the Fender’s blue butterfly, which requires the dwindling habitat of Willamette upland prairie in order to thrive.

Those species, already few in numbers because of habitat loss, are at risk of harm from pesticides, the lawsuit alleges.

The groups called the suit the largest legal action under the Endangered Species Act ever filed over pesticides.

“It’s going to stir a lot of debate and there’s going to be a backlash from the (pesticide) industry,” said Jeff Miller, spokesman with the Center for Biological Diversity, a group based in California and funded largely by its members.

Many of the chemicals named are in heavy use in Oregon in the farming and forestry industries as well as by homeowners seeking to control moss, weeds and insects.

Four of the 318 chemicals identified in the lawsuit — 1,3-dichloropropene, 2,4-D, atrazine and triclopyr — were among the top 25 herbicides used in Oregon in 2008. The state once required pesticide reporting but no longer does.

These four chemicals are listed in the lawsuit as having potentially detrimental effects on several Oregon species, but the suit calls particular attention to atrazine.

The herbicide, which kills broadleaf weeds, is the most commonly detected pesticide in U.S. waters, according to the suit. In minute concentrations, .1 parts per billion, it can alter the development of sex characteristics in male frogs, and has been banned in Europe.

It’s not the first time the EPA has been taken to court over failing to consult with biologists over pesticide impacts, but previous suits, such as one filed by the local Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, focused on the impacts to endangered salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

As a result of one of those suits, the EPA consulted with the National Marine Fisheries Service in regard to three chemicals: diazinon, chlor­pyrifos and malathion. All have been found in Willamette Valley rivers, according to testing by the U.S. Geological Survey, and all pose a significant risk to salmon.

The conservation groups want the court to require the EPA to begin consulting with fisheries and wildlife agencies as required by the law on the impacts of the 318 products.

Until then, the groups want the court to restrict the use of any pesticides that could harm listed species.

An EPA spokesman in Seattle reached on Friday afternoon was not prepared to comment on the lawsuit, and an EPA official in Washington, D.C., did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment on Friday night.

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